Zero chill: Combining resource centers ignores two unique histories
Last week, The Bowdoin Orient published a letter from the student staffs of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) protesting the merge of these two institutions into the Center for Gender and Sexuality. I am entirely in agreement with this viewpoint, but I wanted to add an additional justification in arguing against the merge. The decision to create the Center for Gender and Sexuality is profoundly ignorant of the historical legacy of the experiences of both women and queer students at Bowdoin. Doing so serves to put the issues that women and queer students face and have faced at Bowdoin into the same pot, when the reality is that both of these groups have experienced discrimination in distinct and meaningful ways.
Women were literally excluded from attending Bowdoin until 1969; the College became fully co-ed in 1972. Emily Weyrauch’s recent series on the “Women of ’75” has captured the difficulty of the transition to co-education at Bowdoin: a history that includes inflammatory comments and acts rejecting co-education. The creation of the WRC is directly tied to this history of sexism. In a study of women at Bowdoin conducted by Gender and Women’s Studies 280 in Fall 2011, the students address how the WRC became a place for both inclusion and academic learning. Linda Nelson ’83, one of the founders of both the WRC and the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance, explained during this study that “Somebody tried to burn it [the WRC] down at one point … we did receive threatening phone calls kind of on a regular basis. Some of us were followed around campus.”
The WRC is a monument to the success of co-education at Bowdoin, but also a continuing reminder of the lack of inclusion women originally faced and continue to face. While today issues of exclusion may not be from the college itself, they can still exist in specific academic departments and social spaces on campus. Taking away the WRC as its own independent entity disregards this history of all women’s struggles at Bowdoin. The removal of the word “women” from the new center is an extra insult to the legacy of women who fought for greater inclusion at Bowdoin and who continue to face such issues on campus today.
Marginalization of queer identities has occurred differently from sexism at Bowdoin, particularly in the erasure of these identities from the College and in its history. In 2012, The Orient published an investigation called “Queer at Bowdoin.” This article details numerous examples of ways that both the Bowdoin administration and community acted to remove evidence of queer identities at Bowdoin. In “the 1950s…a student was expelled for ‘lascivious carriage,’ an anachronistic legal term referring to queer sexual behavior. In the 1970s, faculty members who were not seen cavorting with members of the opposite sex were suspect. And Bowdoin kept mum about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.” Alfred Kinsey of the Class of 1916, originator of the Kinsey scale, has not received the public recognition that some other of our influential alums have received. Queer identities have historically been quieted at the College, an issue that should not be forgotten or assumed to have been solved today.
The 2012 Orient article further details hate crimes against queer individuals that occurred in the past few years—a concern that is still relevant. A June 2016 New York Times article’s headline reads, “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group”—a finding by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the Times notes as true even before this year’s shooting at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. It is important to continue the legacy of a center that is specifically designed to help deal with this contemporary reality, in a way that the WRC may not be able to.
Further, combining the centers is ahistorical when looking at approaches to issues of both groups. Both women and queer individuals have historically participated in ways that contributed to the oppression of one another, such as a history of heteronormativity among feminist groups or a history of misogyny among queer men. Both groups also can and have historically been productive allies to each other—and understanding of both women’s issues and queer issues should strive to be as intersectional as possible. But the conflation of the two groups comes at the erasure of these historical differences and precludes an understanding that work needs to be done to make both centers as intersectional as possible. Even if conflation is not the professed goal of the administration, combining the two centers essentially has the same symbolic meaning and should not happen.
Zero chill: Career Planning's misguided prioritization of lucrative fields
In November, I was particularly struck by a poster produced by Bowdoin’s Career Planning Center (CPC). The poster was for an event titled “Consulting Across Sectors.” While the message in itself may not immediately appear harmful, its subtext screams, “Don’t worry humanities majors! You too can get a consulting job.” The poster’s headline is ironically titled “Broaden Your Perspective,” and I would suggest that the CPC take some of its own advice.
Despite the CPC’s pronouncements that they will give advice on all professions, the reality is a little more skewed. As the poster suggests, regardless of what you are interested in, the CPC will suggest you take a finance or consulting job. In the CPC’s video featuring last year’s graduating seniors—a video which current seniors attending the virtually mandatory sessions have now seen twice—most of those interviewed had a job in one of these two areas. A disproportionate number of CPC events address professions in these fields, and a quick scroll through eBear will confirm this is the type of job listed most regularly. It is abundantly clear, despite the CPC’s protests otherwise, that the CPC’s vision for most Bowdoin students is a corporate one.
The reason for this seems obvious and at first-glance may seem unobjectionable—jobs in finance and consulting give graduates frequently prestigious, well-paying jobs right out of college. I am not claiming here that jobs in finance and consulting jobs are necessarily immoral or that people who take these jobs are greedy. Of course, people who wish to take consulting jobs can do so and should look to the CPC for advice.
Instead, my issue is with what I see as a one-sided approach. Recently, a friend of mine who is interested in political non-profit work visited the CPC for advice. Rather than helping her, the CPC representative told her the office was advising people interested in this area to consider finding jobs in corporate responsibility instead. This was reinforced in the recent Non-Profit Symposium the CPC held in which the keynote speaker was from JPMorgan Chase and spoke on “corporate philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.”
The issue with this is that corporate responsibility and non-profit work are not synonymous terms. They have different aims and ends and should not be conflated. Both types of work may aim to improve society, but non-profits’ structures and goals can be vastly different than corporations—and often may take aim at assumptions that corporations hold dear. Further, the reason to push corporate responsibility seems to have a reason similar to the push for finance and consulting: these jobs will most likely be higher paying. Again, the desire for a job in corporate responsibility is entirely reasonable—but blurring the lines between non-profit and corporate work is a disservice to students who are interested in taking another direction. Not all “do-gooder” jobs are interchangeable.
While fortunately this Bowdoin student did not take the CPC’s advice to heart, I cannot speak for others. Particularly because in order to ever be able to use eBear to apply for jobs as a senior, students must meet with a CPC representative. This creates an environment where students who are forced or are pressured into meeting with a representative may be pushed in this particular direction when their actual interests lie elsewhere.
The CPC should work to expand the range of its programming and services. If it fails to do so, it should make its various events optional. It may be fine to promote a viewpoint that is focused on finance and consulting, but only if listening to this viewpoint is voluntary. Ultimately, the CPC is supposed to be here to serve us, and it can only do so by accurately reflecting our interests.